[OPINION] There is a new dawn for SA just outside our fear

We are all victims of apartheid. I consider people who were murdered for political motives, those who went into exile, those who stayed on the ground and under it to fight for our freedom and democracy to be heroes, not victims.

Why don’t we identify them, tell their stories and honour them with a wall of remembrance? How does justice look?

There is an urgency for us to build and create a new society. An equal one based on what we want. Apartheid and its consequences have shown us what we don’t want again.

In 1996 my husband was involved in a car accident. A friend died at the scene, the driver died in hospital and I heard on my car radio about my husband dying a few hours later. I was on my way from the gynaecologist who confirmed my second pregnancy and our eldest son was twenty-one months old. I found myself on my knees, sure that I needed to pursue justice for this life lost.

He had been conscious, talking and stroppy about not wanting to use the bedpan and wanting to go to the bathroom. He had a broken back, but the doctors said he would be fine so they focussed on the head injuries of the driver. While conscious, my husband complained of severe stomach ache and he fought a good fight to get to the bathroom, but it never happened. He died. Asphyxiation. He choked on blood from his internal bleeding.

After some research, I was told that a simple tracheotomy could have saved his life. I was told that severe stomach pain is usually a sign of internal bleeding. I was angry, I was shocked, I was traumatised and I wanted someone to take the responsibility. His loss to our family was enormous and it seemed as though it was unnecessary and the medical people were negligent.

I made an appointment to see the state pathologist. He was empathetic and kind and listened to my whole story and synopsis. He never tried to correct me, or offer any medical advice, he just listened and heard me. After a while he asked me what outcome I sought. I had no idea. I just wanted someone to be held accountable for cutting short all our plans and goals. Even though I was left with a huge amount of young married couple debt, a monetary compensation was not what I was looking for. I wanted justice.

The wisdom and compassion shown to me by the pathologist was wide and deep. He told me that my husband had passed, nothing was going to bring him back. Nursing my grief and protecting my pregnancy should probably be my priority. I realised in those moments that I was being driven by fear. Fear for a predictable future of single parenting, debt, loneliness and an ever after brutally cut short.

It took something for me to rethink my motivations. It took a lot for me to admit that I had to live in the present and plan a new future. After a while the reality that is was the only thing I could do, dawned and I suspiciously took it on. I have no regrets, we only have now. We have memories, we have ways and means of preserving those and it is necessary for future generations to know where we come from and what we overcame.

I am always conflicted when people want to repair the past. We can’t, it is gone. As a wounded country, we have to move forward in a similar direction, healing and uniting along the way. We have to free ourselves of internalised oppression and start taking pride in the efforts we and many thousands of other people made to ensure our children live in a free and democratic country.

People died, sacrificed their futures and all their possibilities for us to be free. One of our friends who went to be trained underground during the struggle told a medical student friend of his: “You have to complete your studies! We are going to need doctors in the new South Africa!” I believe that echoed his choice to fight for us without begrudging her opportunity to study and prepare for a new dispensation.

Why then can we not celebrate these selfless heroes who with bravery and conviction took on a system knowing their lives were endangered? For me, that shows an enormous selflessness, a dedication to a brighter future and a commitment to freedom in or after their lifetime. We must never forget the names of these martyrs, those killed by the villainous apartheid regime and those who lost their lives in a war against poverty, prejudice and politics. The stories of the hundreds and thousands caught in the crossfire maimed or murdered must also be told and recorded. Apartheid did this to us, we must never repeat its evil and malice!

Just as the pathologist asked me, I ask you what do we want the outcome to be? How does justice look? Can we afford another truth and reconciliation-styled display where it opened up wounds and hurts and never really caused any tangible reconciliation? The stories were necessary to open up the minds of people less or not affected negatively by apartheid. It might have given closure to people who had previously not been given a platform to explain what happened to them. I believe fully that all those stories must be recorded, it is part of our history.
Is taking on a system in reverse for the loss of lives of heroes who put up their hands and said: “Thuma Mina!” Would we not better honour the memory of these freedom fighters by taking on the big issues facing our country with vigilance and dogged determination? We can save and preserve this land for a new generation that we are raising in a free, democratic South Africa that is still unequal and unworkable.

Unworkable as we don’t share common goals and civil society leaves too much for the government and other people to manage. Many are fearful of the future and creating it, so they look back and do what they know.

There is a new dawn just outside our fear. There are many hills to die on, there is much work to be done. Let us do it, looking forward, holding steadfastly onto the batons passed to us by those who went ahead.

Our freedom is not free and justice will never be a reality until we make peace and move forward together.

Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn